THE postponement of the governorship and state houses of assembly elections nationwide originally scheduled for Saturday, by one week by the Independent National Electoral Commission confirms its logistical, administrative, and technical incompetence. This further prolongs the agony of Nigerians in the country’s excruciating elections as anxiety and despair pervade the country over the war-like political contests across the 36 states. INEC should put its tainted house in order and ensure that everything is done to deliver credible polling on March 18.
INEC postponed the elections originally scheduled for March 11, citing the need to reconfigure the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System that failed to work seamlessly in many places during the recent Presidential and National Assembly polls. This showed that despite the well over N300 billion funding it received, the electoral body failed to deliver credible elections, which are essential to entrenching the democratic culture.
Really, Mahmood Yakubu, the chairman of INEC and its staff, have greatly disappointed Nigerians. Logistics foul-ups, shoddiness, and compromise that have for long bedevilled elections in the country resurfaced furiously on February 25. Most disappointing was the failure of its IT systems that epitomised INEC’s lack of thoroughness. Together, BVAS and INEC’s Result Viewing Portal were to provide for transparent and instant accreditation and real-time transmission of polling results to instil transparency and eliminate manipulation.
In many places, however, it failed, prompting officials to revert to the much abused and discredited manual results tabulation and transmission format. There were accusations that some INEC polling personnel deliberately bypassed IReV to favour some parties. The result has been disastrous, with the entire process discredited at home and abroad. The four major parties, including the one whose candidate was declared president-elect, have headed to the courts to invalidate some results.
INEC dashed Nigerians’ hopes and placed a question mark on its capacity. It had four whole years to prepare after the 2019 general elections. More, it had the advantage of a series of off-cycle governorship polls and several other by-elections to legislative seats to serve as test runs for its logistics and ICT systems.
While the violence, intimidation and suppression of voters were beyond its purview, being that of the security agencies, INEC’s late deployment of materials, combined with other age-long maladies besetting the electoral process in Nigeria, were simply inexcusable.
There should be no more excuses. INEC must conduct the rescheduled governorship and state legislatures’ elections with flawless precision. The BVAS must work, and results transmitted from collation centres electronically seamlessly.
INEC’s casual treatment of its failure to upload results directly from polling units onto the IReV portal is unacceptable. This has greatly eroded public confidence and fuelled conspiracy narratives that the elections were rigged in some places. The explanation that its portal suffered glitches sounded hollow and tenuous. It should not re-occur.
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Coming on the heels of such a display of ineptitude, its decision to postpone the governorship and state assembly election less than three days to the elections is galling. Nigerians are paying a heavy price for the electoral umpire’s lapses. INEC says it needs at least five days to re-configure the over 176,000 BVAS machines utilised during the February 25 polls. It should get it right.
The Presidential Election Petition Court, sitting at the Court of Appeal in Abuja, had on Wednesday given the commission permission to reconfigure the BVAS it used for the presidential election. The order was sequel to its earlier order restraining INEC from tampering with the BVAS in a suit filed by the Labour Party presidential candidate, Peter Obi, challenging the declaration of the All Progressives Congress candidate, Bola Tinubu, as the president-elect.
Hours after the tribunal delivered its order granting INEC leave to reconfigure the BVAS, which would be used in the governorship and state assembly elections, the commission issued a statement late in the night postponing the polls by one week. INEC thus found a convenient excuse for its ineptitude.
Its acrobatics could further help depress voter turnout, which was a dismal 27 per cent on February 25. Only 24.9 million turned up to vote out of the 87.2 million that collected their PVCs, and the 93.47 million that registered. Some stakeholders are already suspicious of the BVAS reconfiguration plan. To this, INEC insists that it needed to be reconfigured for the next election, and that it would not in any way erase or tamper with the records of the last election. But the failure to upload the presidential election results instantly and electronically after several assurances by the INEC leadership has badly dented its reputation and eroded public trust in the agency and in Yakubu. He has another opportunity to restore both on March 18. INEC should hire skilled IT experts to manage its systems and network to prevent the glitches that reportedly paralysed its portal.
Equally important is the security of its servers, which must be protected from hackers and other cyber mercenaries. The report that over 200 hacking attempts were made on the commission’s network should be taken seriously. Efficient automatic back-up systems are important. Yakubu should flush out compromised INEC staff.
On March 18, INEC will have an opportunity to right the wrongs and horrors of the presidential election and possibly redeem itself. The next one week should be utilised to get its logistics arrangement right, deploy well-trained personnel and ensure a hitch-free poll.
Voting is a fundamental act of civic participation through which citizens contribute to democracy; make their voices heard and have an impact on policies that affect them and their communities. It can also serve as an entry point to other forms of political participation. INEC must therefore desist from actions that stifle the desire of the citizens for participatory democracy.
INEC should strengthen democracy in Nigeria by actively addressing the structural barriers to the free exercise of the citizens’ right to vote. ,
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